Friday, November 30, 2007

Chocolate Cheesecake

Last month, I made a chocolate cheesecake for my friend Samantha's birthday. I adapted an Emeril recipe that I found on (a go-to for recipe ideas!).

Sadly, I broke my hand mixer while beating the cream cheese smooth, so that was the last cheesecake I have made in a while! That mixer lasted for a good long time, though! It was threatening to break when my mom gave it to me in college (so she could get a new one), but it was still operational, so I kept using it until it just didn't work...which turned out to be 4 years later!

This cheesecake was a big hit with my friends, and it's really easy to make as long as you have some key kitchn paraphernalia: a hand mixer and a springform pan. I would not recommend mixing a cheesecake batter by hand, although it certain is possible to achieve a delicious result. However, it is quite difficult to get the lumps out of the cream cheese, and your arm will get really tired really fast. It's better to invest in a cheap hand mixer (I believe you can get one at convenience stores, grocery stores, department stores, and kitchen stores for prices starting at around $8).

Here is my version of Emeril's New York Style Chocolate Cheesecake

2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1 cup, plus 1 TBSP sugar
3 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
2-1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBSP all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat sour cream
8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 350˚F if using a silver springform pan or 325˚F if using a dark nonstick springform pan.

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan with butter or non-stick spray. In a small mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, 1 TBSP of sugar, and the melted butter. Mix well with a fork until the mixture is well blended. Using your hands, press all of the mixture into the bottom and one inch up the sides of the greased springform pan. If the mixture won't stick together when you press it firmly, try adding a little more melted butter until it sticks.

In a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer (or a stand mixer if you are lucky enough to have one), combine the softened cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar, and vanilla extract and beat until light and creamy. Add the flour to the cream cheese mixture and beat on medium speed until just smooth. Then, in a double boiler over medium high heat, melt the chocolate morsels until smooth. Allow the chocolate to cool for a couple of minutes, but while still liquid, add it along with the sour cream to the cream cheese mixture. Mix well.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition until just blended. Do not over-mix!! This is very important if you want to have a light, tender texture for your cheesecake.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the center is almost set (i.e., it jiggles just a little bit if you shake the pan gently). If you are worried about cracking, you can bake your cheesecake in a water bath, but remember to line the outside of the springform pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent water from seeping into the pan.

When the cheesecake comes out of the oven, run a sharp, narrow knife around the rim of the pan (but don't release the spring yet. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before removing the rim of the pan. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before serving. Garnish with whatever you want! I used M&M's, which was a hit, but you could use fresh berries, chocolate syrup, mint, or whipped cream. Whatever you like with chocolate will be a perfect garnish for this cheesecake.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Santa Isabel Torrontés 2006

Santa Isabel
Mendoza White Wine (Argentina)
Price: $7.99 (sale, normally $9.99)
ABV: 12.5%

I opened this wine on Thanksgiving day so my sister could cook with it (yay for pumpkin pear ginger soup). The nose was delightful, but it tasted quite blah. The disparity between the fruity aromas and the really bland taste was pretty weird. I'd never had a wine that tasted so poorly after such a promising nose!

Last night, 6 days later after the initial tasting, Karl and I decided to give the wine another test before I designated it to the cooking-wine shelf.

Surprisingly, the nose had not changed much, but the taste (in my opinion, anyway) improved by leaps and bounds! No longer bland, the flavors (though still strangely distinct from the nose) really opened up and developed with time.

The color of this wine is very pale gold, almost greenish, but very clear in the center of the glass. The description on the bottle calls it bright yellow, which is not true at all.

The nose is sort of mysterious. It smells really sweet. Karl compared the nose to a botrytis dessert wine that he had during the Thanksgiving break: sweet, with a veiled musty-ness. I didn't really smell any must. I got some leechi fruit scents, some honeydew melon and maybe some not-very-tart apples (like Pink Lady or Ambrosia apples). I didn't get a lot of alcohol on the nose, which was nice.

Like I said, this wine's taste is so different from its nose that it's a little off-putting. Thought it smells really sweet, it's quite dry: there is literally not residual sugar at all coming through. I actually was fooled by the nose and thought the wine was "off-dry," but Karl corrected me.

On the attack, for a few seconds, there is a burst of really tart, sour, white grapefruit. The finish is a little bitter, like lemon pith (not the zest, but the white parts). It sort of reminds me of some very hoppy but not too dry India Pale Ales that I've had, but without the acidic zing that effervesces in your mouth due to the carbonation of the beer. I suppose that might be a grassyness akin to hops that I tasted. Right at the end, I think there may be a tiny hint of jasmine, which the bottle's description also touts as a feature of the wine. It tastes a bit like jasmine tea that has been brewed too long and has started to get that tannic bitterness.

Karl didn't really like it to drink alone. I enjoyed it, but I probably wouldn't want to drink more than a half-glass of it since it's so intense. I agree that it probably needs some food to really bring out its potential, but I couldn't think of any food pairing off the top of my head that would be good, so I probably won't buy it again except maybe to cook with since it's pretty cheap.

A fun wine to taste since it's not your typical fruity wine. Experimenting is the key to learning what you like, so don't be afraid to try new things, even if you think you'll hate it! Karl and I were lamenting that we need to expand our palates so that we are better able to pinpoint what we're smelling and tasting in wines (and beers, too!), and the only way to do that is to try new things (and to think about what you're tasting and smelling while you're doing it). I'm definitely planning to do more of that in the future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I'm not sure why it took me so long to check out the podcast craze. I think part of the problem was that I just didn't believe I could get internet radio/video downloads at no cost! I'm a skeptic at heart. Now that I'm addicted, I thought I'd share a few of the gems I've come across in my voracious hunt for free entertainment peppered with a nice dose of knowledge.

Karl recently got me watching one of National Geographic's video podcasts called Wild Chronicles. The podcast consists of short (5-7 minutes), informative videos about a certain species or phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Really cool stuff! And so I was welcomed into the world of the podcast.

I quickly started looking around on my own through my iTunes account, simply by entering a simple keyword searches in the podcast section, looking for subjects in which I am particularly interested (e.g., wine, beer, environment). By pure luck (and by Gary's immense popularity), I stumbled almost immediately upon Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV (aka the Thunder Show). See the previous post for a reminder of how much I truly adore GV and his video podcasts!

I also found a wine podcast that I can listen to on my non-video iPod (chalk one more thing down for the Christmas list...) while I'm commuting to and from school: Winecast. This one is a bit heavier on the reverent tone in its discussion of wine. I prefer Gary, but this podcast offers some really valuable background about wine regions and varietals that I find wonderful. Each session (10-30 minutes) discusses one type of grape/region, and the host, Tim Elliot, offers comparisons, tasting notes, and personal ratings of about three different wines of that grape varietal.

My second video podcast subscription was to Food Science, an On Network podcast with Dr. Kiki, a bubbly scientist who describes the chemical reactions, and general science behind one of the more commonplace activities in our day: cooking! One of my favorite episodes is one in which she makes ice cream using liquid nitrogen. The podcasts usually last 3-10 minutes and are packed full of interesting tips and tricks (although many of the tricks involve ingredients or equipment you won't find outside of a chem lab).

Another radio podcast I've begun subscribing to is the Behind the Bar Show, a show about cocktails: recipes, history, myths, bartending tips/tricks, and origins. There's not too much more to say about it, other than the host, Mr. Martini himself, is really quite knowledgeable and seems like the kind of guy that you'd want to have as a friend. This is a really approachable podcast that deals with subject matter that could quickly get overwhelming, and I really like it!

I'm sure you're beginning to see a pattern in my interests!

So far, I have yet to find a good beer podcast, so any suggestions would be welcome! Perhaps at a later date I'll review a few podcasts I've tried and rejected.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Umbria Sangiovese 2006

After watching a bunch of Gary Vaynerchuk podcasts over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was ready and raring to go to the wine shop! When Karl got in on his flight from Chicago, we went to buy wine before we even got him home! I purchased two bottles of wine, one standby and one new. Karl was talking about a good Sangiovese that he had with his family during an Italian feast this Thanksgiving, so I was up for trying one (I've never had a Sangiovese before). I couldn't wait to taste it!

Umbria Sangiovese 2006
La Carraia
Cost $9.99

I had it open for about 40 minutes before we couldn't wait any more. In retrospect, we probably should have waited longer, but hindsight is 20/20!

The color was very pretty, a dark red fading to a peachy-pink around the edges. Very lovely.

Karl thought he smelled some cinnamon on the nose, while I was having trouble smelling anything besides alcohol and oak. Not a very good start. I smelled it for about 5 minutes (of course getting wine all over the tip of my nose in the process...I need to get a bigger glass!). I managed to sniff some dark berries and a little bit of pepper.

After being quite disappointed with the nose, Karl and I had a taste. It was not much better, I have to be honest. Karl said he tasted tannins, oak, and alcohol and not much else. He said the finish felt like licking bark because it was so tannic. I agreed for the most part. There were tons of tannins almost immediately coating all parts of the mouth. It was very woody and quite bark-like on the finish, as Karl said. After a few more swishes around, I noticed some bright, sour cherry or maybe just tart cranberry notes right at the very beginning. There's quite a bit of oak, but not too much, I don't think.

If Gary is right, which he probably is (in his vast amount of experience compared to my tiny experience), this wine just needs a few years to mellow out to reach its potential. 2006 is pretty young for a red wine, I think, especially one that seems like it's supposed to pack a punch. It's hard for me to taste through all those tannins right now, but it would be fun to buy another bottle of this and save it for a year or two and see what happens, and at $10 (I think it's on sale right now), it's a pretty good deal and not unreasonable for saving.

Update: We left the bottle open during the remainder of the night and kept having sips of it to see how it was opening up, and it really helped! The nose improved (more red fruits noticeable), and the tannins slowly receded (but not completely), and I really thought the wine started to taste like it had a lot more potential. I had a little bit of it with a bite of our pizza (topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, green bell pepper, mushroom, and Frank's Red Hot), and I thought it was an okay pairing. Interestingly, I thought the wine took on an interesting eggplant flavor when paired with the pizza. Kind of weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

We still have about 3/5 of a bottle left, so I'll be interested to see how it is tonight. I may buy another bottle to save.

All in all, not a bad experience. I look forward to reviewing the "standby" bottle for you!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thank you, Gary Vay-ner-chuk!

If you don't know who Gary Vaynerchuk is, please visit the link. Check out my cool new widget to your right for a hint of what he is all about.

Basically, he's my new hero and has effectively replaced the hole in my heart where Grey's Anatomy used to be nestled, until the second season got too much like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital. Bonus: I don't need to be in front of a TV to get my fix of Gary!

Gary is the best. He's a wine afficionado of the least pretentious sort. He's all about enjoying the wine, trying new things, and above all, paying attention to what YOU like instead of worrying about what others think. His podcasts are usually 10-20 minutes long and consist of him, usually surrounded by action figures, sniffy-sniffing and tasting 1-6 wines and exploring the aromas and flavors that delight and disappoint him. It's really fun and quite stimulating. I for one tend to feel a sudden urge to run to the nearest wine shoppe after I watch.

So, many thanks are to GV, for many reasons, outlined below.
1) For reawakening my desire to explore and enjoy wines.
2) Tasting wines that I can usually afford
3) Being knowledgable enough to talk about grape varietals, wine regions, color, bouquet, etc., etc., etc., but also without being as pretentious and snotty as Sir Gary Vaynerchuk,
4) For being a source of comfort during this stressful pre-law exam time of my life. His podcasts are perfectly timed to provide a happy study break in between outlining for Environmental Law and playing catch-up in Administrative Law, AND
5) Reminding me (by tempting me with the possibility of meeting him!) that I have a blog and that it's fun to write about food and wine and beer and cheese, even if no one reads it...although I should probably work on expanding my readership of zero.

If I have any readers, please visit GV's site (click on the title of this post) and check out a few of his podcasts. Seriously. You will not be sorry!